Arlington Passed an Ordinance to Promote a "Festive Image" during the NCAA Final Four

With thousands of fans expected to flood Arlington in April for the NCAA Final Four, there couldn't be a better time for you to finally open that ticket-scalping business you've always dreamed of, sell your famous canned chili dogs to random people on the sidewalk or try hosting an Occupy Protest tent city in your front yard.

Unfortunately the City of Arlington doesn't agree. Last week the city passed an ordinance that will "promote and protect the festive image in and around the AT&T Stadium Major Sports Complex" from March 25 until April 8.

During that time, the ordinance creates a "Special Event" rectangle in the city that's about 1.5 miles by 3 miles, encompassing not just the AT&T stadium but also residential streets.

Within that zone, there can be no outdoor advertisements, no outdoor vendors that didn't exist before the NCAA finals and no temporary outdoor event, defined loosely as anything with a "temporary outdoor structure." That stuff isn't just banned from public streets, it's also banned from being "visible from any pubic street."

Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500.

The outdoor advertising displays that are prohibited are "including but not limited to" portable signs, flags, building wraps and cold air balloons. And temporary outdoor structures include canopies and "air-inflated and tensioned membrane structures."

In 2011, Arlington passed something similar for the Super Bowl. The point then was to prevent "ambush marketing," wherein people who aren't event sponsors show up on game day and try to pretend that their brand is associated with the event. Arlington is not the only city to do this. In fact, the NFL demands that all host cities pass some sort of regulations to prevent ambush marketing.

But Arlington defined "ambush marketing" rather loosely during the 2011 Super Bowl. On that day, one man was cited for owning a truck which was "pulling [a] trailer advertising during special event." Another person was cited under the ambush marketing ordinance for "selling cotton candy in the street."

In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Deputy City Manager Theron Bowman said this more recent special event zone ordinance is similar to the Super Bowl one, which he portrayed as a good thing.

"The experience from the Super Bowl is that the zone had a minimal effect on residents," Bowman told the paper.

What he didn't mention: In 2011, a man named Eric Williams was also charged with ambush marketing on game day. His offense? Promoting his anti-bullying campaign, including a truck flanked with Best Buy ads, in the parking lot of Best Buy, which had given him permission to set up there. Williams sued, accusing the city of targeting black and Latino people in its ambush marketing citations. That resulted in him getting a $5,000 settlement from the City of Arlington and another $25,000 from the Super Bowl committee.

In the text of Arlington's NCAA ordinance, meanwhile, there's no mention of ambush marketing. Instead, it's all framed as a way to keep the city safe and looking good. "The NCAA has related to the City of Arlington experiences in other cities where failure to regulate temporary structures ... resulted in pedestrian and vehicular traffic issues that caused traffic and pedestrian safety problems."

That's an ominous enough warning that we suggest you move your game day moonbounce inside your living room if you live within the special event zone. If it doesn't fit indoors and you get a ticket for having a temporary outdoor structure that's visible to the public, just play it off to the cops like it's a permanent moounbounce that's always in your driveway.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn